News / Plastics Unpackaged / Sustainability

Plastics Unpackaged: The wonder material, with a green future.

Written by:
Laura Connelly and Emily Skinner

19.01.22

Smile Plastics upcycles plastic materials to provide a circular design life
Ocean Waste by A Potato Head Studios.

We’re kicking off 2022 with our brand-new insight series. In Plastics Unpackaged, we, alongside our industry peers, explore how plastic - once considered the wonder material - can contribute to a greener future. Without it, so much of what we love about the world around us simply wouldn’t exist.

In this, our first post, we’re setting out our stall. We’re calling to arms. We’re acting in defence of what we deem the unfair treatment of plastic as a problem material. In our view, plastic isn’t the problem. Our economic model and behaviour towards it are. Afterall, the plastic problem hasn’t always existed. In fact, the material’s beginnings are entirely natural.

Wonder from down under

Formed millions of years ago from living organisms falling to the sea floor before being crushed into sediment and transformed by bacteria into hydrocarbons, such as crude oil, and then, finally, being processed, plastic is a true force of nature.

Adopted on a wide scale thanks to its ease of manufacture, plus lightweight, waterproof and durable properties, plastic has long been the go-to for so many sectors and applications. From food to fashion, toys to tools, no industry has been untouched by the many benefits that plastic possesses. Most recently, the healthcare sector has relied hugely on plastic for providing PPE to its front-line workers in the fight against Covid-19.

However, we all know the detriment that waste, and, specifically, plastic waste is having on the environment and our ecosystems. Taking the last example alone, according to a report covered by the Guardian, around 26,000 tonnes of plastic Covid waste currently pollutes the world’s oceans - equivalent to more than 2,000 double decker buses.

Add this to the worrying statistics pre-Covid…

8.3 billion tonnes of plastic created to date and only 10% is being recycled.

300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced each year.

50% from single-use plastic.

…and it’s unsurprising the material is being highlighted as a major threat to our planet.
But, take a closer look at the above. 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been created to date – yes. Though only 10% is being recycled and 150 million tonnes of single-use plastic is produced every year. The data is frightening, but what’s concerning isn’t so much the volume of material being made, but the volume of material being wasted. Discarded. Left to pile up in landfill.

8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been created to date, yet only 10% is being recycled.
8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been created to date, yet only 10% is being recycled.
By allowing a reduced amount of plastic to be manufactured and then re-used repeatedly in a continuous lifecycle, we can remove harmful volumes of plastic waste from the environment.
By allowing a reduced amount of plastic to be manufactured and then re-used repeatedly in a continuous lifecycle, we can remove harmful volumes of plastic waste from the environment.

The long and winding road

We acknowledge that the way in which plastic is being manufactured and disposed of currently is not sustainable. We believe, however, there is another path. Though rather than being a through-road, it’s circular. By allowing a reduced amount of plastic to be manufactured and then re-used repeatedly in a continuous lifecycle, we can remove harmful volumes of plastic waste from the environment.

Of course, the approach to solving the waste plastic problem is vast, incredibly complex and continually evolving. It’s not an overnight job. We recognise that what we offer at Smile Plastics is but a drop in an ocean. But it’s a drop, nonetheless.

Even with over 20 years’ experience in our particular approach, we are continually learning and refining. No solution can remain static. However, our two main aims are:

  • To create the most beautiful circular plastics in the world – 100% recycled, but also 100% recyclable materials.
  • To challenge ideas about “waste” and the system that creates it.

We believe in a supply value chain generating a high value plastic ecosystem, continuously cycling in a closed loop of plastic use and reuse. Take a look at our materials and you’ll see the narratives woven into their surface, honouring their post-consumer life. In this way, we’re not rewriting history, but adding another chapter. Then another. And another.

For us at Smile Plastics, it’s a forever evolving journey. The key word here being evolving. Evolution is what brought plastic to its current place of notoriety. And we believe that evolution around its use and economic approach is what will secure its part in a more sustainable future.

Stay tuned for the next instalment in our Plastics Unpackaged series, featuring insight from some special industry guests joining us at the Surface Design Show (8-10 February) for our panel discussion: Materials Matter - Main Stage, Thursday 10 February from 11:45 – 12:15. Click here and register for your free ticket to the show.